Does the Heisman Trophy still stand for integrity after Jameis Winston's win?
As predicted by every sportswriter from Key West to Kodiak,. The vote wasn’t even close. He delivered a humble and appropriate (if sometimes syntactically-challenged) acceptance speech, thanking his parents, celebrating his team and crediting his coach. At one point he got a little teary, but mostly he behaved like a 19-year-old who has just been handed the moon and stars: delighted, puppyish, grateful.
Yet the celebration – even here in Tallahassee, Florida, where Seminole football is practically the state religion – is not unadulterated. A last December. In the end, . The state attorney decided there wasn’t enough evidence to mount a case.
Still, the whole thing left a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. The Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the “outstanding college player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity”. Certainly Winston exhibited excellence; it’s the integrity part that’s troublesome. Though Winston is clearly this year’s best player, more than 100 Heisman voters left Winston off their ballots entirely, as if to show disapproval. As observes, there’s “a distinct aura to the Heisman Trophy, something mystical that's evolved over the generations”.
Or there used to be: some recent Heisman recipients cannot be described as perfect specimens of muscular Christianity. Auburn’s Cam Newton was entangled in a; Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M is an arrogant jerk, . And if you reach back into history a bit, well, OJ Simpson won the trophy in 1968.
The fans, the alumni, the swooning local sportswriters, all desperately want to believe Jameis Winston never assaulted anyone. He’s our hero, the gridiron savior riding in from the west (well, Hueytown, Alabama, anyway) to awaken Florida State football from its long spell of mediocrity, leading the Seminoles to their first national championship game in 15 years. He seems like such a nice boy, , skipping like a 9-year-old. To see him throw a perfect ball down the sidelines or scramble for an unexpected 10 yards or leap over two defenders to score a touchdown, the ball held high in one hand, is to see the physical manifestation of pure joy.
I love FSU football; I, too, want to believe. I want the truth to be that Jameis (we call him by his first name around here, as if we’re tight with him, though few of us have ever actually met him) is guilty only of stupidity, of cheating on his in one of those dumb hookups that happen every night of the week in a town full of adolescents with adult bodies and brains yet to catch up. See, he’s such a beautiful player, completing 70% of his passes even as some 300lb behemoth tackles him. He’ll go to the pros, maybe the Super Bowl, and on to football's Olympus, where the immortals live on ambrosia and simulcasts of all the season’s games.
The need to believe in his goodness is understandable, and I share it, though I wish the more rabid fans and the cheerleading hometown press wouldn’t howl like scalded dogs whenever somebody has the temerity to challenge Jameis’s character even so gently. Minutes after the Seminoles whipped the Duke Blue Devils by 38 points, ESPN’s Heather Cox tried to commit a little journalism, asking Jameis Winston why he’d refused to talk about the rape accusation. It was a clumsy question, but not a mortal sin. Nevertheless, FSU’s Sports Information office terminated the interview and Cox was vilified online and.
Much as we want to think we know Jameis Winston, we don’t. Maybe what happened that night was consensual, just like his lawyer says. Maybe it wasn’t. We don’t know. Nobody knows, except Jameis Winston and that young woman. There will always be a bruise on this glorious season of big scores and big awards, always an asterisk. And in Florida somewhere, there is a woman who’s not famous and who still maintains she was raped.